Lil Donald has loftier goals than many of his peers. “I feel like I want to be like the Martin Luther King of Hip-Hop,” he says. “I don’t wanna die and it just be like ‘He was a great artist.’ When I leave I want it to be like, ‘He really changed how people thought. He changed how people act toward other people. How people treated other people. A huge impact on the world. When you go to every city it’s an MLK Blvd there.” Born Donald Brooks, the 27-year-old Decatur, GA native has already begun to make an impact in his region. Now, he plans to share his story with the world.
His aspirations to change the world with his music are rooted in pain. Growing up in poverty with a drug-addicted mother, Lil Donald was exposed to significant hardships early in life. At age 10, his mom left him, his two older brothers, and younger sister in an abandoned house with no food, and no way to contact her. “We had to survive in that house for at least a month. We were going to the store stealing food, just trying to survive. I was the one that had to go the store and steal it because I was small and I was quick, so if somebody chased me, I could get away,” Donald remembered.
Seeking an outlet for that pain, a young Donald turned to poetry. He entered a contest at school at age 13 and won, which inspired him to keep writing. But it was Tupac who that inspired him to begin making music. “It was “Dear Mama,” because at the time my mama was on drugs real bad. I just felt like I could relate to him. So I felt like, damn if I could relate to him, how many people could relate to me?”
That desire to make music that’s not just heard, but felt, comes from his many influences. Besides Pac, Donald was inspired by artists with emotional gravitas like Biggie, Eminem, and Outkast. Artists that weren’t afraid to share their fears, family drama or their darkest thoughts. Problems that real people deal with every day. When it came to music, Lil Donald gravitated toward the raw, unvarnished truth.
No song in Lil Donald’s catalog, to date, exemplifies his commitment to putting real life situations into his music like his the hit single “Do Better.” The song was inspired by a close friend involved in an abusive relationship. She would reach out to Lil Donald for advice, but could never bring herself to break away from the man she was with. Frustrated that he was unable to get his friend to leave, he recorded “Do Better” and sent it to her. “I had no intentions of putting the song out or making it a song for the world. It was just for her. I sent it to her, let her hear it, and I started seeing a change in her,” Lil Donald says.
Eventually, the song inspired his friend to leave the toxic relationship behind, and restart her life. Lil Donald would go on to release the song for free on Valentine’s Day as a gift to other women who might be enduring a similar situation, and the response was immediate. “From then on, women started DMing me. ‘Man, this song means the world to me. I feel like you were talking to me directly.’ And just seeing the impact it was making towards women, I decided to put every dime I had left into it.” In addition the impact “Do Better” had on people’s lives, the song became a smash hit in Atlanta, and is now one of most added songs in urban radio nationwide.
He followed up “Do Better” with another deeply personal track called “Suicide.” The somber single was inspired by his own nephew, who tragically committed suicide. The song is especially important given the stigma that surrounds mental health in the black community. “It was a topic that I felt like I should address because it’s a lot of people going through whatever they going through at the moment, and they reach out to people and try to talk to people and they get a certain type of reaction or don’t feel like they got nobody to lean on, so I felt like I could save a few lives with that song,” says Lil Donald.
Lil Donald has had many ups and downs in his still nascent career. He’s had buzzing singles as a new artist and been signed to deals and big labels. He’s made money and been up, lost money and been down. Juggled caring for his kids and managing his career. He’s felt the tug of the streets trying to pull him back, yet he’s stayed focused on crafting a future through music.
As he makes his climb to the top this time, you can believe that he plans to stay. Not just because of the quality of his music, or his work ethic, but his connection to the people. “I feel like my fans gonna be around for a long time because I got their hearts, not their minds,” says Lil Donald. “ A lot of these rappers got fans’ minds for that moment, then six months to a year later, ain’t nobody paying any attention to them. But I’ve been so in tune and passionate with my fans when I fell down and lost my buzz, I didn’t lose my fans. And when I came back, my fanbase was right there. With that type of support playing an instrumental role, Lil Donald is poised to be around for the long haul.
Listen to the podcast interview with Lil Donald last year on Get Lifted Radio.